Rudderless Socialists face wipe-out in election

8th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 8, 2007 (AFP) - Reeling from Segolene Royal's defeat in the presidential race, France's Socialist Party (PS) faces the prospect of a humiliating wipe-out in this weekend's legislative elections which look set to deliver a huge majority for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, June 8, 2007 (AFP) - Reeling from Segolene Royal's defeat in the presidential race, France's Socialist Party (PS) faces the prospect of a humiliating wipe-out in this weekend's legislative elections which look set to deliver a huge majority for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A month after Sarkozy's victory, France returns to the polls Sunday for the multi-candidate round of a two-stage election to choose the 577 members of the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament. The second round takes place on June 17.

Already in a minority in the Assembly, the PS appears bound for another five years in opposition -- with the latest opinion poll showing that it can expect no more than 29 percent of the first round vote compared to 41.5 percent for Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

The only question is likely to be the size of the party's defeat. In the worst case scenario it will lose many of its existing 149 members and sink to depths last plumbed in 1993, when in a dramatic electoral collapse it returned just 67 law-makers.

The PS's main ally on the left, the Communist Party (PC), risks an even worse fate and will cease to function as a separate parliamentary bloc if it falls below 20 deputies, as seems inevitable.

Once France's biggest political party, the PC scored less than two percent in the presidential election and is close to bankruptcy. Earlier this week the party was forced to deny rumours that it intends to sell its Paris headquarters, a listed building designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

The left's difficulties owe much to the electoral system, which places the legislative vote in the wake of the presidential race. This gives an overwhelming advantage to the newly-elected leader, who can convincingly argue that he needs a parliamentary majority to accomplish his manifesto.

The lacklustre nature of the current campaign, which has received threadbare coverage in the media, suggests that the public regards the legislative election as of secondary importance compared to the presidential.

But polls also indicate that French voters believe the PS is in need of urgent modernisation before it can become a credible party of government.

According to a CSA survey in Le Parisien newspaper Thursday, 55 percent of the public think the PS has adapted badly to changes in the world, 58 percent find its ideas unrealistic, and 55 percent said it has yet to face up to the reasons for Royal's defeat.

The PS came to power for the first time in 1981 with the election of president Francois Mitterrand, who won again in 1988. But it has since lost three presidential elections in a row -- most humiliatingly in 2002 when Lionel Jospin was overtaken by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

According to Denis McShane, former European Affairs minister in Britain's Labour government, French Socialists need to follow the example of other European parties of the left and adapt to the economic realities of globalisation.

"The PS has a sociocultural vision based on the ideas of May 1968, but its analysis of the modern economy is wrong. The way people lead their lives has changed so much," he said.

The Socialist Party is also hamstrung by deep divisions among its leading members, with left-wing, reformist and "Royal-ist" camps blaming each other for the presidential debacle.

Far from retiring from the fray after her defeat, Royal continues to present herself as the party's best hope for the future and has indicated she will run for the post of First Secretary at a PS congress due next year at the latest.

The post has been held for the last 10 years by her partner Francois Hollande, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of the presidential campaign.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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